Preschools are a critical component of early childhood development.
Their presence fosters the creative, intellectual, and social development of young minds, yet approximately 84 percent of South Sudanese children under the age of 6 do not have access to early education. The situation has deteriorated further due to the ongoing armed conflict and worsening economic environment.
Alapi’s family first moved to a town from a small community in the countryside after it was attacked by militants. In his home village, he attended preschool classes until the school was destroyed during the fighting and all the buildings burnt down.
“I always spent the day in the house,” 5-year-old Alapi said. “My parents never allowed me to come out and play with my friends. I felt lonely, I couldn’t understand what was happening.”
When the conflict worsened, the family fled to the city of Yei, moving into one of the abandoned houses there.
“When we came here, we sometimes had no meals,” he said.
Things became even harder when Alapi’s father left for Juba, leaving his wife and children behind.
“We only had two cups of porridge a day,” he said. “I missed my friends and teachers.”
“There was no affordable nursery school in Yei city and I could not afford the private one as it’s expensive. I just had to keep him at home until the situation improved,” Alapi’s mother, Regina, said.
Regina was a peasant farmer before the conflict, but without any land to farm she has no way of making an income.
To help children like Alapi, Plan International is supporting five Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers in Yei city, where 1,137 children are enrolled. The project forms part of Plan’s Education in Emergencies (EiE) initiative, run in partnership with UNICEF.
Plan believes that the early childhood years are the most crucial to the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of children. The rapid pace of physical and mental growth are accompanied with a desire for exploration, play, and learning.
In most cases, children growing up in conflicts are denied the opportunity to benefit from services offered by preschools. Their parents are usually occupied by the need to earn a living to feed their families and ensure their safety, so often children are neglected and do not progress as much as they could during their early childhood years.
Alapi is enrolled at one of the ECD centers and is now much happier:
“I can now play with my friends,” he said. “I have learned new things and made new friends. I love my teachers.”